It’s summertime and because school is out, many people find this to be a good time to move. For many people this is an exciting time, but for others, it’s a time that presents challenges of going down memory lane and getting rid of what no longer serves us. Perhaps that’s one of the upsides of moving—it forces us to make a clean sweep of our house and get rid of what we don’t need. If you have a family, the decision of what to keep and what to give away, might be a group decision, however, when it comes to sentimental personal items, it’s often a decision that must be made on an individual basis.
I believe that statistically I’ve moved as much as most Americans during the course of my life—about eleven or more times. For me this averages about once every ten years. I’ve never had a problem deciding what to give away and what to keep. My mother taught me that if I had not worn or used something in a year, then chances are I don’t need it and should give it away. This works fine for items which are not sentimental, however, I have a more difficult time getting rid of family heirlooms and items of sentiment.
When people talk to me about moving, I can’t help but think about my last move. Eleven years ago today, my husband, our three kids, and I decided to take the leap and move across the country from Florida to California. The movers packed up our entire lives into a 53-foot tractor trailer.
While the movers loaded the truck, I found myself shuffling boxes in the house from one place to another, deciding what to keep. I felt that ridding myself of some of these items would be the best solution to the clutter in my life. The problem was that doing so—that is, discarding things such as my wedding gown, my daughter’s first doll, the kids’ drawings from kindergarten, the high chair where all three children had swallowed their first spoonfuls of Pablum, my father’s watch collection, my grandmother’s perfumes—made me feel that my past was being eradicated.
Did I think that hoarding these keepsakes in my attic protected me from my future self or gave me a certain security about my past? What was the purpose of all the memorabilia in my life? I wasn’t sure if I should keep all of it or just discard the items in those boxes that had been stored away for more than thirty years now.
I plopped myself onto the only chair left at my kitchen table and pondered the importance of “stuff.” After a few moments, I decided to conduct an experiment. I got up and walked into the living room where the boxes were piled in a stack that almost reached the ceiling. I separated the boxes that had been brought down from the attic and, one by one, carried them to the grassy spot near the street where our garbage would be picked up momentarily. I knew one thing for sure: the journals I’d begun writing at the age of ten were not a part of this collection. I would keep those forever, even if my kids never bothered to read them.
After putting the boxes on the grass, I began to walk away but then stopped and turned around one last time to look at them. With great resolve, I took a slow pivot and walked back to the house. But before I’d even pulled open the front door, I sprinted back to the street, where I was greeted by the trash collector, who’d just leaped off the back of the truck next to my boxes and other items.
“Stop, stop!” I yelled to him. “You’re tossing away my past. How could you do that?”
He pulled his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose and placed his hands on his hips. “Lady, you’re not gonna take this stuff with you to the grave. Just let ’em go. What purpose do they serve?”
I smiled and walked over to the walker where my firstborn had learned to take her first steps. I caressed the bar where her tiny hands once lay.
“Sorry, sir, I just can’t. I can’t. Without these memories coating the attic of my mind, I might die. You see, at my age, I find myself living for my memories. What’s the crime in that?”
He hesitated and then glanced back at me. “Lady, one thing I’ve learned in this job, which you probably think is made for dummies, is that letting go ends up being your only means of survival. The more you hold on, the less you’re able to survive. You must live each day as if it were your last. If you try doing this, you’ll embark on a whole new perspective and life journey. Trust me. I might seem like just a dumb garbage man, but I know. Now you go ahead and have a fine day.”
“You, too, sir,” I replied, shaking my head and walking back down the driveway to my front door, and into the house where all the boxes—but not my memories—had disappeared forever.